Group steps up an effort to discredit oppressive doctrine

Coalition works to counter a centuries-old worldview that upholds the domination of indigenous people

May 23, 2016 by and

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ELKHART, Ind. — A coalition of people from across Mennonite Church USA is working to dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery.

The Doctrine of Discovery Coalition meets in January at Seattle Mennonite Church. Members pictured are Patty Burdette, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Michelle Armster, Sheri Hostetler and Jonathan Neufeld. — Doctrine of Discovery Coalition

The Doctrine of Discovery Coalition meets in January at Seattle Mennonite Church. Members pictured are Patty Burdette, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Michelle Armster, Sheri Hostetler and Jonathan Neufeld. — Doctrine of Discovery Coalition

The DoD is a 15th-century philosophical framework that gives “Christian governments” moral and legal authority to dominate indigenous peoples and to invade and take over indigenous lands.

It was the basis for Manifest Destiny in U.S. history and continues to empower governments to oppress indigenous people around the world, says Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for MC USA and the denomination’s representative on the coalition.

The DoD Coalition — formerly the DoD working group — brings together representatives from MC USA, Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Creation Care Network, the Watershed Discipleship movement and members and leaders of congregations and conferences.

During the coalition’s Jan. 7-9 meeting in Seattle, members worked to define how the group will function and formed committees to focus on specific areas: Education, Native Land Return, Arts, Structures (legal and policy), Fundraising and Communication, and MC USA Resolutions, among others.

De León-Hartshorn will chair the Resolutions Committee.

“For the Resolutions Committee, our hope is to work together to come up with a resolution for the delegate assembly at Orlando 2017,” said de León-Hartshorn, the committee chair. “We want the denomination to take a definitive stand against the use of the DoD.”

She is also a member of the coalition’s Education Committee. She and fellow committee members Erica Littlewolf of the MCC Central States Indigenous Visioning Circle and MCC Central States executive director Michelle Armster presented April 5-6 on the DoD for Canadian Mennonite leaders and MCC Canada at the Thunderbird House in Winnipeg, Man.

“The Christian church has missed a golden opportunity to allow Native American spirituality to help inform and unpack some of the negative impacts of Western thought on Christianity,” de León-Hartshorn said. “Some First Nations spiritual values could really help us see the fuller picture of what God intended.”

De León-Hartshorn and Armster presented on using Indian theology as a lens to view Scripture in a liberative way. They raised awareness of how oppression and domination of indigenous people continue to affect people today.


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